Off with yer heads

London Day 2 – Morning – Tower of London

England travel tip #3: Purchase your Tower of London ticket ahead of time. It saves getting caught in long queues. You will get more time to fangirl over everything you learned in The Tudors if you do. Plan to spend at least 3-4 hours there exploring the grounds and the buildings.

On the sunny second day of my trip, I made my way to Tower Hill, home of the fascinating Tower of London. Some might call it a tourist trap, but it is an absolute must, I feel, if you enjoy anything about British history, royal history, or, again, The Tudors. Besides, there are the Crown Jewels. The Crown Jewels, people!

Walking up to the Tower, the iconic buildings of the Tower and the Tower Bridge are all within sight. The vibrantly green lawns contrasted with the grey bricks. The dank, damp smell of the stones hit my nostrils with a sharpness that seemed to say, “I’m historical.” Finding a Beefeater tour guide is the best way to get started at the Tower, but be prepared for large crowds following the guide. They can project their voices quite well, and our guide even took pictures on his ultra-modern smartphone and tweeted us. Nothing as anachronistic as a Beefeater at the Tower of London whipping out his smartphone to tweet out pictures of visitors …

Another thing – do not underestimate the size of the ravens. They are massive beasts with menacing beaks. They like their fresh meat, and legend has it if they were to leave the Tower, then the kingdom will fall. Hence why they are fed nicely and given such nice accommodations.

After the short tour, it’s worth it to have a map to know what to see there, as the complex feels sort of big without a map. There was the green where notables such as Anne Boleyn were beheaded, the old chapel where the executed queens were buried, the Crown Jewels, an exhibit on knights’ and kings’ armor, and also some information about the infamous torture at the Tower. Of course, there was Traitor’s Gate, where heads of the unfortunate were staked as a warning against similar offenses.

People romanticize the Medieval era, but just give it a think for a moment: crappy (forgive the pun) sanitation, very little bathing, wearing the same clothes frequently, no rights for women, no modern medicine, the plague, rigidly stratified society, and so on. It wasn’t all unicorn-hunting, parties, velvet dresses, and jewels. Frankly, after watching The Tudors, most of those romantic ideas should be dissolved. It certainly wasn’t rose-colored in Henry VIII’s court!

After a hearty four hours at the Tower, I eventually left for a stroll along the Thames toward Tower Bridge. It was too late for me to really spend time at St. Paul’s Cathedral, which had been my original plan, so I reformed that and decided on a visit to another museum – the fantastic Victoria & Albert.

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